Instead of raising $85 million by hiking commercial tolls 45 percent, the state Thruway Authority will be shifting at least $60 million in State Police Thruway patrol costs to the state budget’s general fund. That’s the apparent upshot of today’s announcement by Governor Cuomo and the Thruway Authority’s chairman, as reported by the Albany Times Union. It’s good news for transportation companies and their customers, if not necessarily taxpayers in general. But it’s also a bit mystifying.
Given the state’s $1 billion projected general fund gap for fiscal 2013-14 (not counting any negative impacts from Superstorm Sandy), it’s a bit of surprise to learn the state has $60 million to spare. Perhaps Cuomo’s Budget Division thinks there are significant savings to be achieved by redeploying some “Troop T” officers to duties off the Thruway — making the net budget impact far less than $60 million. If this is the case, why the drawn out toll-hike drama in the first place? (By the way, the fiscal 2013 general fund budget for State Police, excluding the Thruway patrol, is $454 million.)
To make up for the rest of what would have been raised by the toll increase, the Thruway Authority is supposed to achieve $24 million in other savings “mostly” through attrition, the Times Union says. Based on the 2012, this would suggest a further cut of 9 percent in a Thruway payroll that has shed 755 positions in the last 17 years, including 299 since 2007, according to the Authority’s latest budget. The budgeted 2012 fill level was 3,118 positions, excluding state police.
These numbers would suggest one of two things: either the Thruway Authority is now cutting to the bone, or its payroll has been very fat for a long time.
The Thruway Authority could also have cut nearly $60 million from its budget by divesting itself of the Canal Corporation, which was shifted off the state budget and onto the authority’s books as part of a budget gimmick under Governor Mario Cuomo more than 20 years ago. Under Article XV, Section 1 of the state Constitution, the state cannot sell or dispose of its canals, but it couldlease them. Then again, absent a hefty taxpayer subsidy, who would be interested in running an obsolete transportation artery that generates about $2.3 million a year in revenues against $58 million in operating expenses?